I was on suicide watch for someone who was thousands of miles away. After hanging up the phone, I couldn’t stop thinking about what my father said. From his words and from the sound of his voice, I knew that his despair was so immense, so consuming; my father lost his desire to live.
I called 911. He didn’t kill himself that night, but I worried that it was just a matter of time.
Perhaps one way we can help prevent suicide is by proactively working to bridge the gap between us and them, between people who suffer from persistent thoughts of suicide and those who don’t.
They are us because they are our teachers, preachers, doctors and war veterans. They are our brothers, sisters, mothers and fathers and our children.
They are the rich and poor, the young and the old, the gay and the straight.
We can prevent suicide by working to reduce the stigma of severe mental illness.
We can prevent suicide by creating safe and nonjudgemental places for people to talk about their struggles with thoughts of suicide.
We can prevent suicide by addressing the moral injury of war, violence, and bullying of any kind, whether at home, at school, or abroad.
Suicide is never an isolated tragedy, but instead is a communal tragedy. More than not, suicide represents the failure of not one individual to cope with life, but of an entire society’s failure to provide adequate support and mental health care.
Alarming rates of war veterans attempt suicide every month. Young people who are gay, lesbian, bi-sexual or transgender are extremely vulnerable to suicide. And some people because of their title or rank (Dr., Rev., Captain) never reach out for mental health care because of fear that it would jeopardize their career.
I recently learned that my father’s death six years ago may have been caused by suicide. I wasn’t able to prevent it. Perhaps no one could have prevented his death.
So what do we do when we have lost our power to prevent a suicide?
How do we break free from the paralysis and sense of helplessness in the wake of the suicide of a loved one?
We reach out. We open up. We listen. We choose hope. We speak out for a more just world. We support each other. We create healing environments. We pray. We love and we don’t stop living.